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French Revolution is the quintessential revolution in modern history, its radicalism resting on a rejection of the French past and a vision of a new order based on universal rights and legal equality. The slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death” embodies revolutionaries’ vision for a new world and their commitment to die for the cause. Both aspects of the slogan influenced subsequent struggles for freedom throughout the world, but one might look at the French slave colony of Saint-Domingue for an example. On Saint-Domingue the outbreak of revolution received acclaim by the lower classes among the 30,000 whites, while planters opposed talk of liberty and equality and the destruction of privileges. The Convention’s commitment to equality and desire to win the allegiance of rebels resulted in the abolition of slavery in 1794. A later attempt by Napoléon to reinstate bondage on Saint-Domingue failed despite the capture of the ex-slaves’ skilled leader, Toussaint Louverture (c. 1743–1803), and the slave uprising culminated in the creation of an independent Haiti in 1804. Revolutionary principles of liberty and equality had led to national liberation and racial equality. One also sees the revolution’s significance in the fact that nineteenth-century ideologies traced their origins to the event. Conservatism rejected the radical change and emphasis on reason of the revolution, while liberalism reveled in the ideals of individual liberty and legal (but not social) equality of 1789. Nationalists treated the concept of national sovereignty as a call to awaken from their slumber in divided states or multiethnic empires. Democratic republicans celebrated the radical phase, finding in its democratic politics and concern for the poor a statement of egalitarianism and incipient social democracy.
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